Financial literacy - a foundation for lifelong success

While personal financial literacy is included in the state standards under social studies, many school districts in Colorado and nationwide struggle with how to best teach it, and when to teach it. In response, St. Vrain Valley Schools is making sure that every student receives financial literacy education, and that teachers receive the best support to educate students, because “it is never too early to learn about financial literacy,” said Jenny Pettit, a social studies and secondary literacy coordinator.

“Understanding the key concepts in financial literacy and being able to apply those concepts is vitally important to all people,” Pettit said. “We have made curriculum changes to incorporate a personal financial literacy unit at every grade level kindergarten through high school, and include daily lesson plans, resources and performance assessments for each unit.”

Thanks to a 2014 grant from Great-West Financial, SVVSD has purchased and created resources for teaching personal financial literacy and provide professional development for teachers, said Pettit who manages this effort.

“Every grade level is different in the way in which they learn about personal financial literacy,” Pettit said. “For example, students in second grade learn about how to differentiate between long- and short-term goals by reading “Beatrice’s Goat” by Page McBrier. Middle school students learn about more complex concepts such as taxes. High school students dig deeper into concepts such as incentives, investments and insurance as they create their own financial literacy portfolio.”

Kahle Charles, executive director of curriculum, said other financial concepts taught to St. Vrain students include: assessing short- and long-term financial goals; buying insurance; calculating and filing taxes; understanding savings and investment; analyzing the objectives of diversification, liquidity, income, and growth; planning for retirement; and managing personal credit and debt.

Through a partnership with the Colorado Council for Economic Education, the school district also offers workshops offering elementary and secondary teachers the content and pedagogy of teaching personal financial literacy. All elementary teachers and social studies teachers in the district have received a flash-drive containing thousands of lessons and resources, Pettit said.

Elevations Credit Union is another partner of the SVVSD. The credit union has an employee team that visits schools to share their knowledge and passion for personal financial literacy. Eva Gaudio, SVP Governmental and Student Affairs at Elevations Credit Union, said the team has presented on topics like saving, budgeting, credit, purchasing a car, identity theft protection, leadership, economics, career planning, paying for college, and entrepreneurial skills, in 300 SVVSD classrooms to 9,000 students—they’ve even presented in Spanish.

“The leadership of St. Vrain schools has always been supportive of and proactive about financial education for its students, well before it became a Colorado graduation requirement,” said Gaudio, who worked with the state legislature in 2008 to make financial literacy a graduation requirement in the state of Colorado. “If we are to succeed as a community and a nation, we need more emphasis on financial literacy at an early age.”

In fact, SVVSD youngest learners have the opportunity this summer to continue their personal financial education outside the classroom. Susan Zimmerman, district coordinator of Community Schools for SVVSD, said the school district is offering students and families two week-long camps focused on personal financial literacy.

“The camps are done in a way that makes sense for the younger kids because the sooner they learn about financial and money matters, the better off they will be,” Zimmerman said.

“Jr. Money Matters” camp, scheduled for June 20-24, is designed for students entering third and fourth grades. Attendees will learn about money, banking and the world of work, while learning basic financial skills. The second camp, “Young AmeriTowne,” is for students entering fifth and sixth grades and will run June 27-July 1. Attendees will set up a mini-town and take on roles in government, the media, and business owners, to see the financial concepts they learn about come to life. Both camps will be held at Sunset Middle School.

And for the district’s high school students, under the new graduation requirements is a .5-credit financial literacy course, said Connie Syferd, assistant superintendent for student achievement. The addition was made based on feedback earlier this year from a student advisory group who felt that financial literacy was essential to being ready and well-rounded.

“From beginning to end, financial literacy is important for all students,” Syferd said. “Financial literacy is a basic understanding and knowledge that helps prepare our students to contribute to a successful economy and a successful community.”